I welcome the two IT related bills in the Queen’s Speech.
The Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill will limit the amount of time that the DNA profiles of innocent people in England and Wales can be held on the national database and will adopt the Scottish model. This seems to be much more proportionate than holding a blanket database of everyone’s DNA, which was where we seemed to be heading at one point. I believe that this would have led to all sorts of problems in the future. I think that this bill now strikes the right balance between bring criminals to justice and ensuring the privacy and freedom of innocent people.
The bill will also tighten the regulations on the use of CCTV cameras, which seem to be springing up everywhere. The United Kingdom already has more surveillance than any other society in the world and we need to be careful about how we are using this technology. In fact, we must become much more wary about using technology in general just because we can without first giving proper and due consideration to the longer-term consequences.
For almost as long as I can remember, I have been concerned about the introduction of a centralised identity database. Government has not had a good track record in keeping people’s personal data secure and I could see all sorts of abuses developing around the proposed National Identity Register.
I was alarmed by just how many people initially welcomed the proposals introduced by the Labour Government in the wake of the recent terrorism atrocities. Many people were saying that they had “nothing to hide” and that it was a “small price to pay” for safety and security. However, it is clear that the British People have woken up to the fact that their personal data is extremely valuable and that such a database would have proved to have been highly intrusive. I think it has also become increasingly clear just how little protection these measures would actually offer against terrorism in any event.
Consequently, I welcome the Identity Documents Bill which will cancel identity cards, the National Identity Register and the next generation of biometric passports. These were always going to be expensive projects which, in the current economic climate, we can ill-afford. It was also clear to many IT professionals that the whole programme was likely to cost far more than the politicians were hoping.
While it might be unpopular with IT practitioners, I also welcome the new administration’s jaded view of using information technology as a silver bullet and I am glad that the government is looking to shelve a good number of other expensive and ill-conceived projects. It is not that I think government should avoid IT altogether. It is just that I am mindful that most government projects do not really deliver the intended benefits to the public who pay for them.
The simple truth is that government does not have a good track record in implementing IT projects on time and inside budget. This is partly due to a propensity amongst politicians to view IT as some sort of “magic wand” that they can wave over complex issues with the hope that everything will be magically sorted. However, it is also, I am afraid, partly due to a lack of ethical practice by many so called professionals within IT that lead government (and no doubt a good number of private sector organisations too) into the belief that IT can solve almost everything. As Michael Cross said on the Guardian web site some time ago (23rd September 2009): “the IT industry is not shy about talking up its abilities.”
The latter point is why I am an ardent advocate of Chartered IT Professionals (CITP) because central to the ideas that underpin this registration is the need to work in the public interest and to always take an ethical stance when providing advice. As I said in my article “IT Professionals must be Assertive!”, professionalism is about telling the truth whether the client likes the message, or not. The problem with government (and others) is that they infinitely prefer to be told something is possible and even better, that it is cheap. The complexities involved in modern IT means that most politicians and civil servants must rely on the advice they receive from their IT advisors. For an unscrupulous consultant, it is easy to promise the earth and forget to mention until much later that it will also cost the earth.